Throughout World War II, Pius XII remained in the Vatican at the heart of occupied Rome, seemingly separated from the action of the war. Many claim today that he was a coward, hiding from the Nazis, and refusing to speak out against the atrocities committed around him.
However, the speakers at the Vatican presentation on 15 March of Sr Margherita Marchione's new book, Pius XII and the Jews, paint a different picture.
According to Cardinal Edward Cassidy, President of the Pontifical Commission for Relations with Judaism: "The document 'We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah,' published by the Holy See on 12 March, recalls that, at the end of World War II, Jewish communities and personalities expressed their gratitude for what Pius XII and his representatives did to save the lives of thousands of Jews."
The Cardinal continued: "Cardinals, bishops, priests and religious sheltered Jews, at times for months. Even cloistered religious did not hesitate, their severe canonical restrictions notwithstanding, to save Jews and expose themselves and their communities to grave reprisals by the German occupation. Sister Margherita Marchione's congregation, the Pious Philippine Teachers, cared for 114 Jews whose lives were in danger. Recently, Israel's ambassador in Italy gave the Medal of the Just to the Sisters of Sion who saved 187 Jews."
"In reflecting on the Holocaust," he added, "we are not trying to deny that there were Catholics who did not offer as much help as they could have to the persecuted, but we do have some heroic Christian testimonies. They were witnesses of evangelic love, of the love Jesus Christ taught his disciples in very clear words: 'Love your neighbour as yourself' and 'I give you a new commandment: that you love one another as I have loved you'."
Cardinal Cassidy concluded his address by recalling what Golda Meir - Foreign Minister and later Prime Minister of Israel - wrote when Pius XII died: "We share humanity's sorrow ... When the terrible martyrdom was unleashed on our people, the Pope raised his voice on behalf of the victims. Life in our times was enriched by a voice that spoke clearly, above the daily tumult, on the great moral truths. We mourn for a great servant of peace."
Senator Giulio Andreotti, former Italian Prime Minister, said that as soon as the calumnies against Pius XII started, Giuseppe Saragat, who was Italian Foreign Minister at that time, wrote: "I, myself, am convinced Pius XII was a great Pope and that the campaign against him is orchestrated for partisans. So many years after his death, this is unacceptable, not just for Catholics, but for all men of good will ... Innumerable episodes reveal the spirit behind Pius XII's activity, especially here in Rome, the capital of the Republic, where there is living testimony from all citizens on Pius XII's work; moreover, instead of going to a safe place protected by Allied troops, as others did, he stayed in his place, in the middle of the storm, giving aid to neighborhoods stricken by the fury of the war, and trying to pry innocent victims away from Nazi barbarism ...
"In any event, the controversy that has broken out over the memory of Pius XII is not a cultural debate; it is founded on calumnies and lies that have nothing to do with historical and cultural research. In the debates against Pius XII we see the cold, calculating propaganda of those trying to excuse Nazism from horrific crimes by making the Roman Catholic Church co-responsible."
Fr Peter Gumpel, process reporter for Pius XII's beatification cause, made a detailed explanation of the way opinions on this Pope changed over a period of twenty years: "At the end of the War, all the large Jewish organisations of the world, the chief Rabbis of Jerusalem, New York, Denmark, Bulgaria, Rumania and Rome, and thousands of Jews who survived the persecution, expressed their gratitude and affection for what Pius XII had done for them.
"After 1963, there was a complete turn around, following the play The Deputy, written by Rolf Hochhuth, a very young playwright. At the end of the play, which was translated into several languages, the author included an historical appendix. Any historian who reads that text would appreciate its superficiality. There are quotations with no references and unjustified declarations. Hochhuth himself admitted that where he had no documentation, he gave free rein to fantasy. It is interesting to note that his thesis is identical to the one Stalin spread to all the countries under communist occupation; perhaps this coincidence is not accidental."
Father Gumpel noted that the first to attack Hochhuth's play were some Jewish historians, among whom were Emilio Pinchas Lapide and Jeno Levai. Lapide wrote that "the Holy See, the nuncios and the Catholic Church saved between 700,000 and 860,000 Jews from certain death." Levai published a book documenting the Church's role in saving thousands of Hungarian Jews: Hungarian Jewry and the Papacy: Pius XII Did Not Keep Silent.
In regard to anti-Semitic accusations, Father Gumpel said that "on 25 March 1928 the Holy Office published a document stating, 'The Church fully condemns the hatred against the chosen people of God, that hatred is currently called anti- Semitism.' The condemnation was made in 1928, in other words, five years before Hitler came to power, and the document was directed against authors who had left the Catholic Church to promote racism and an exaggerated nationalism, the exaltation of the Nordic race, and scorn for everything else."
To dispel any lingering doubts about Pius XII's relations with Nazism, Father Gumpel said, "when Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli was elected Pope, the Nazi Government, led by Adolf Hitler, was the only one that did not send an official delegation to the ceremony."
Zenit News Agency.